To the Editor
I would like to congratulate my friend and associate Sheila Whytock on an excellent series of podcasts entitled Willing to Listen – South Bruce Proud. In these episodes, Sheila explores a number of issues surrounding the potential Deep Geological Repository for Canada’s spent nuclear fuel, here in South Bruce. Most interestingly, Sheila has talked with a number of scientists with decades of experience working with radiation and radioactive material.
Those following the discussion here, have heard a lot from anti-nuclear crusaders whipping up fear of radiation, postulating terrible things that could possibly happen in a DGR, and spreading misinformation about incidents in other nuclear facilities around the world. It’s important for those interested in the DGR to distinguish between people spreading fear about theoretical events, and those who have spent their careers actually working in the field. I encourage readers to listen to the podcasts, but I will give just a couple of examples here.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Project or “WIPP” in New Mexico, is where the United States stores nuclear waste in a DGR. This nuclear waste comes from the USA’s nuclear weapons program, and is somewhat different and more difficult to handle than spent fuel. Dr. James Conca ran an independent research and monitoring facility associated with the WIPP, and is able to authoritatively debunk some of the myths about the WIPP.
In 2014, nuclear waste was improperly loaded into two containers, creating a chemical reaction that caused one of the containers to rupture, releasing some airborne contamination in the repository, hundreds of meters underground, and there was a detectable, momentary increase in radiation at the surface, near ventilation shafts. Opponents of Canada’s DGR point to this as a catastrophic failure, and a reason why DGRs can never safely be operated. The truth is that the facility operated exactly as planned, and contained the radiation. The amount released at the surface, Dr. Conca explains, was about one tenth of the radiation in a normal family-sized bag of potato chips. (Yes, many things we eat are radioactive, especially potato chips.)
After the incident, out of an abundance of caution, the WIPP has been replacing some ventilation shafts, and taking the opportunity to improve the design – about a half billion dollar initiative (these are big projects, folks.) Opponents say this “expensive clean-up” shows that DGRs are a waste of money, and will always be late and over-budget, and continue to cost more than planned. The truth according to Dr. Conca is that, including the cleanup and redesign, the WIPP is about 10 years ahead of plan and a billion dollars (US) under budget.
Commenting on Canada’s plan, Dr. Conca advises that spent fuel from power reactors is “easy to handle” because it’s solid, not a liquid or a paste, like some of the US waste. “We know how to do this”, he says. “We’ve been looking at this for fifty years – this isn’t anything new”.
Dr. Conca also advises that, in the process of becoming a willing host community, South Bruce should demand an independent, university-run research and monitoring centre, similar to what exists near the WIPP (see www.cemrc.org). Here, anyone living within a hundred miles can come in and learn about radiation, and have themselves, their water or their potato chips monitored and measured. The centre would also independently conduct all routine environmental monitoring around the site, and of course, provide additional long-term, high-paying jobs for area residents.
This is one more way that the DGR project could be the best thing ever to happen here in South Bruce. If the DGR goes ahead, it will provide hundreds of high-paying, high-tech jobs for generations, allowing our children and grandchildren to live, work and prosper right here in this beautiful community. I encourage my fellow residents to get all sides of the story, starting with the Willing to Listen – South Bruce Proud podcast series.
Tony Zettel, RR5 Mildmay